Gratitude for Rev. Gardner C. Taylor
Remembered by Dr. Robert Lee Hill, Senior Minister
Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri
For more than 70 years, Dr. Taylor held forth among African American Baptists and a panoramic array of religious adherents throughout the United States and around the world as an orator with few if any peers.
MLK’s Favorite PreacherAs the pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York, for 42 years, and afterwards in retirement, Dr. Taylor engaged the issues of his community, the nation and the world with passion, insight and effectiveness. He artfully combined the necessary durative dynamic of transcendence with the equally necessary punctiliar character of incarnation.
With Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Dr. Taylor his “favorite” preacher, he helped found The Progressive National Baptist Church in order for congregations to better address and overcome the ravages of racism and segregation in the U.S. Working from the North, he led the Concord church and many other congregations to raise funds for Dr. King’s efforts in the South.
Dr. Taylor also served on the New York City Board of Education and was always involved in issues that arose in the “public square” of Brooklyn and greater New York. In his later years, Dr. Taylor worried that many religious leaders and their congregations had lost their “prophetic edge” and might fall into the trap of merely mirroring a consumeristic culture.’’
Compassion Sabbath in Kansas CityWhenever he spoke and wherever he travelled, Dr. Taylor dealt with ethical issues and matters of public significance, including when he came to Kansas City.
The Center for Practical Bioethics will remain abidingly thankful for Dr. Taylor’s presence in Kansas City in 1999 at the launching of “Compassion Sabbath,” which engaged more than 80,000 faith community leaders and members in hundreds of congregations in an interfaith initiative to increase the quality of care for those facing the end of life. At a breakfast gathering at Union Station, he spoke compellingly of the need for honesty and compassion in relation to the experience of debilitation and pain at the end of life.
During the time of a sabbatical journey in 2010, I was privileged to share a long interview/conversation with Dr. Taylor in his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. In retirement, Dr. Taylor echoed in his meditations what he put forth as a preacher, pastor, and activist for the betterment of humanity. Well into his 90's, Dr. Taylor spoke plainly and with swift clarity about the process of aging. When asked about what he prayed for, he said his personal prayers were "to get out without too much pain." And he added, with a chuckle, "And I'm ready to get out, I'm ready to go."
People in the pew, the academy of homileticians, and awe-struck fellow clergy regarded Dr. Taylor as a singular personality whose like only comes around once every century or so. We would agree and only add that we’re so glad that he came to Kansas City to share his extraordinary voice for the intertwining for what is “good” and what is “right.”
Note: The Kansas City Star published an article about Dr. Gardner on April 11, 2015, describing his pulpit as “the most prestigious in black Christendom.”